Diversity at Work: Challenging the Status Quo

For the HR community, diversity can be a topic that’s always niggling away at the back of the mind. It can make us question whether we are conforming to the policies, abiding by employment law, and using the right terminology. Having a diversity policy has become synonymous with “avoiding discrimination”; employing the “right” number of people from minority groups; promoting enough females to senior positions; or striking the delicate balance between performance management and bullying.

 

This positions diversity as a one-way process designed to advantage the employee, but with less focus on the benefits it brings to the employer. If we are completely honest, a lot of us probably see diversity as a chore, something that can get in the way of “business as usual”.

 

When we asked a global sample of HR professionals what they would be focusing on during the coming two years, diversity featured at the bottom of the list: below the likes of leadership development, employee well-being, engagement, employer branding, and recruitment and talent attraction. Only 12% admitted diversity was a major challenge that they were actively trying to address.

 

So why are we writing a paper about a topic to which our audience appears to be fairly ambivalent?

 

Through our research and interactions with organizations around the world, we are seeing increasing evidence for promoting diversity from a “nice-to-have” “box-ticking” exercise on the public sector agenda to a global imperative. Our research is showing that the definition of diversity is changing and that managing diversity is actually an indirect way of addressing those HR issues higher up the priority list. Diversity is no longer just about gender, age and ethnicity, and it is not just there to protect the interests of minority groups. It is a business tool that can address skills gaps, increase innovation, and derive superior performance from individuals. But the message is not getting out to the right people.

 

When organizations understand the reciprocal benefits diversity can provide for employees and organizations alike, it will be taken seriously. Organizations that are realizing this are the ones with not only an interesting mix of people, but also an agile workforce with a point of difference. Like employee engagement some 15–20 years ago, diversity will lose its fluffy- HR status and start to be part of C-suite discussions and woven into the fabric of employee value propositions and organizational culture.

 

Check out our paper for more on how the definition of diversity changes, how to build the case for diversity, what the barriers to diversity are, and how to make diversity work. We are challenging the status quo to get the message out there, that by casting our net wide enough and employing and supporting a diverse workforce, we will have the foundations in place to build a richer future.

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